Final AMBIT post…

I’ve dropped the ball with blog updates on this so here’s just one more photo for the time being – great group shot in Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s office:

15 March: Baltimore

This was a big day for me. I had been looking forward to the Baltimore visit more than any others due to being a huge fan of the TV show The Wire.

Disappointing!

Our visits for the day were coordinated by City Hall..and though we visited some excellent government-funded projects (including Baltimore Rising) we were given little insight in terms of where in the city we were, or any sort of social/historical background to Baltimore. Moreover..requests for a drive through some parts where The Wire was filmed seemed to be argued away…gutted! Yeah some people may shout “ghetto tourism” and I know going to these places may not have been in the Government’s interests..but I learnt an awful lot about how cities work /don’t work as a result of that show. At least I managed to buy a copy of the Baltimore sun.

Baltimore Rising was a youth mentoring and prisoner re-entry programme based in Park heights, north of the city (I later found out), and the view from its’ boardroom window was far from inspiring…

The day ended with a visit to Annapolis for a meeting hosted by Governor of Maryland Martin O’Malley. The character of Thomas Carcetti in The Wire was loosely based on this guy, and it was difficult to get that out of my head the whole visit. He was a smooth operator, fielding our questions effortlessly and drawing the session to a close when his time was up. I think he is viewed as a potential Presidential candidate..if he  makes it that far then I suppose this was a pretty cool meeting.

Governor O'Malley is the smooth guy in the centre

13-14 March: on to DC

(this trip is now over…blogging retrospectively from here on in!)

I spent early Saturday morning watching Tottenham v Blackburn in bed in the hotel (thanks to ESPN2) while some of the crew headed down to Fado’s Irish pub to watch the Ireland/Wales rugby game…with a 20 dollar entrance fee.

Last year I visited DC with Lisa to visit my sister so am familiar with a lot of the sights. It was still exciting to make the journey..miserable weather along the way was lightened by showing the movie The Blind Side on the bus – the one Sandra Bullock won an oscar for. I thought this film might have been a bit patronising but it was so well-acted that you get caught up in it..true story as well which I didn’t realise.

We arrived mid-afternoon, and had a few hours to ourselves before dinner. The hotel was in the Dupont Circle area, north-west of the White House. It was cool to take in the atmosphere round the place and visit this brilliant record store.

Another place that was visited on more than one occasion was Kramer’s Books – a book store, cafe, bar, restaurant and live music venue. We just don’t have places like that at home..and if we did it might be full of idiots.

Sunday morning was a free day, and I took the opportunity to go to church – the 8th Day Faith Community in Columbia Heights, which meets at the Potter’s House coffee shop. My sister Jude lived in DC for a year working for a related project. It was a pleasure to share in their worship –  a small ecumenical, politically and socially aware congregation..a great morning.

As this was our only full day off I dandered round Georgetown for some presents and then visited the Museum of American History down at the Mall – successfully avoiding the St Patrick’s day parade!

Newark 11-12 March

We visited the City of Newark – making the journey back and forth from Philadelphia for a couple days. It’s a city which has suffered much from civil disorder as a result of business leaving the area and other more complex factors. The downtown is a far cry from what you would expect from a Western city of that size. The city seems to be turning the corner however thanks to a dynamic mayor and committed, coordinated voluntary/community organisations.

Downtown Newark

A highlight for me was a visit to the New Community Corporation, a faith-based community development network which has successfully plugged gaps in service provision through opening a supermarket and building housing, while also advocating strongly on behalf of the communities with which it works. Newark Now was another networking organisation..the learning for my work I took from that organisation was to constantly “look in the mirror” at what we are working towards.

I’ve been impressed by the faith-based organisations we have visited during this whole visit, and Covenant House, an international Catholic organisation with a refuge in Newark, was no exception. They emphasised the fact that FBOs (see what I did there?) have no divine right to assume a place round the table of community involvement but most earn it by being GOOD at what they do – just loving people and being well-intentioned is not enough.

I finished off the week by catching a Philadelphia 76ers basketball game with a few of the group. They are pretty poor this season but it was a close game against league leaders Cleveland.

Wachovia Stadium

All of the city’s stadia (football, Basketball, Baseball, Ice Hockey) are next to each other on a site south of the city centre which was pretty cool.

It was a fantastic first week in Philly. So much to reflect on and some great ideas which just might work back in East Belfast. On Saturday we headed south to Washington DC and Baltimore. I visited DC last year with Lisa when my sister Judith lived there so it will be good to catch up with people we got to know there and get re-acquainted with Barack and Michele of course! The NI political leaders will be in town for St Patrick’s day so it should be an exciting few days. Hopefully it will be warmer than during our visit last year.

Being a huge Wire fan I’m also very excited about visiting Baltimore of course….

At the bottom of the “Rocky” steps

And the view of the Philadelphia skyline from the top…..

Cape Town 15-22 Feb – updates on the way

Finally a decent reason to update the blog! Tomorrow I travel to Cape Town with a group of 18 participants from across Northern Ireland for a study visit as part of the Journeys Out programme – a course arranged with INCORE at the University of Ulster.

We’ve been facilitating workshops in each of our communities on the issue of dealing with the past, documenting the learning process on the way. Part of the closing stages of the programme is a trip to South Africa to explore approaches to dealing with the legacy of the conflict in Northern Ireland. I hope to update the blog here with some photos and reports etc during the course of the trip if and when I get the chance.

A tale of two cities part two – New York

Just standing still in Manhattan tires you out! I visited before back in 2002 and was keen t0 fill in some gaps. The city was new to Lisa and it seems there’s always something new to explore here.

dscf0514Times Square is a vicious assault on the senses. According to our guidebook almost every part of the island is now gentrified to some extent, as demonstrated by the omnipresence of Starbucks. The lower villages still pack a multi and counter-cultural punch though
dscf1252

There are still come great record shops in Manhattan, and though the pound doesn’t quite go as far in 2009, browsing these endangered places was as much a joy.

The sight-seeing bus tours and Empire State Building were doing quieter business so it was nice to not be herded through the other tourist attractions. We’re not huge musical fans so tried to pick an un-Broadway show to see – Avenue Q was the funniest couple of hours I’ve ever spent in a theatre. It’s an adult take on the Muppets with great songs, edgy humour,  and was a refreshing antidote to the glitz and glamour of the big shows.

After years of flying with budget airlines we felt like kings travelling with Aer Lingus. I watched Burn After Reading on the journey home, coincidentally set in Washington.

Two visits to New York will probably do for now, but seeing Washington in the afterglow of the Presidential inauguration was a real thrill, as was catching up with Jude!

I battled jet lag to stay up for the Carling Cup final on the day we returned home but sadly it wasn’t Tottenham’s day. Another sporting point – given the number of Irish pubs in New York we still couldn’t find one that was showing the Ireland-England rugby match.